Norwood Arena Speedway, closed now for more than 40 years, still sparks excitement among those who raced cars on the quarter-mile track or went there to watch them.
They talk of how the track gave rise to two great drivers, one of whom won the Daytona 500 in 1970, and the other who died trying to win on that track.
Those who savor the memories of the local speedway off Route 1, which closed in 1972 after 25 years, will get a chance to relive those times Saturday at an 8 p.m. sold-out documentary premiere of “Norwood Arena — The Movie,” at the Norwood Theatre. A second show was added for Sept. 28 at 4 p.m.
“It’s going to be an unbelievable night,” Jerry Kelleher, executive producer of the film and a former Norwood selectman of nine years, said of the premiere. “It’s a labor of love now.”
Kelleher, who with friend and fellow producer Brendan King, also of Norwood, has been working on the film for two years, plans to take some of the former drivers featured in the movie out to dinner before the premiere. The drivers will then enjoy reserved “victory lane” seating in the refurbished theater, where Narragansett beer, one of the sponsors at the old track and now the movie, will be available. An after-party will be held nearby.
George Savary, the 1970 track champion at the arena after accumulating the most points that year for his finishes, said that he raced cars on many tracks over 40 years but that Norwood, where he first learned to race, was special.
“It was a lot of fun; you can’t always put fun into words. It’s in our hearts, we know,’’ he said in a recent interview.
On the movie’s website (norwoodarenamovie.com), the track, nicknamed “The Little Daytona,” is touted as having given rise to racing legends that went on to Daytona in Florida: Pete Hamilton, the Daytona 500 champion who raced for the legendary Richard Petty team, and Don MacTavish, who began his racing career at Norwood when he was a teenager and died in 1969 during the Permatex 300 stock car race at Daytona at age 26.
Savary, 72, originally from Roslindale in Boston, now of Walpole, said he and MacTavish were good friends and he was blessed to have raced with him and the others, many of whom knew each other from Needham’s “Gasoline Alley,” where many race cars were housed and repaired and where he had his own car business. He said they loved racing and enjoyed the extra wages. The drivers, if they raced three or four nights a week, could make $500 to $1,000 a week, Savary said.
Savary, who also ran a rug business over the years, said he retired from racing in 2001.
Kelleher, a graphic designer, said he originally set out to make short historical vignettes about Norwood, after finding himself with some extra time after serving as selectman. He said he decided to start with Norwood Arena.
“Once I started in on it, it just exploded,” he said. “Now that I met them all, I feel like I owe them a good story.”
He said the arena, located halfway between Boston and Foxborough, was a popular entertainment venue. In addition to racing, it also featured concerts, boxing matches, and other events. He said he was not familiar with car racing, but learned from the drivers and King, a car enthusiast.
King, a principal of King & Bishop, a human resources firm, attributes his love of cars to his father, a 1960 Norwood High School graduate who he said could have been a character in “American Graffiti,” which was set in Modesto, Calif., in 1962 and featured drag racing, diners, and rock and roll. King said his family lived in California for a time and his father used to take them to races there.
He said making the movie was fun and challenging, given their work and family commitments, but worth it.
“They have a great story. A great American story that needs to be told,” King said of the drivers.
King and Kelleher noted that the drivers from that era are growing older and, like World War II veterans, there are fewer around.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity for us to get it on film so it’s lasting,’’ King said.
Kelleher said he believes the nearly two-hour-long movie is an emotional story that will appeal to a wide audience. They are hoping to have it made available on DVD.
Kelleher said it cost about $25,000 to make the film, some of which they raised through a Kickstarter online campaign and sponsorships. Besides Narragansett, sponsors include Norwood Light Broadband, Central Motors Auto Team, and Bezema Motors & Auto Body. The movie is narrated by Gil Santos, a former WBZ reporter and longtime play-by-play announcer for the New England Patriots.
Tickets for the Sept. 28 show are $24 for adults, $21 for seniors and students, and are available online or by calling or visiting the Norwood Theatre box office at www.norwoodstage.com.Jean Lang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.